By Edith Honan
NEW YORK, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Two members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot may have remade themselves as global human rights advocates since their imprisonment for hooliganism, but on Tuesday they vowed to return to the stage as performers.
"It's absolutely impossible to take this out of us," Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 24 told a New York news conference ahead of Pussy Riot's appearance at an Amnesty International concert on Wednesday, a day before the Winter Olympics open in Sochi, Russia.
Tolokonnikova and her bandmate, Maria Alyokhina, 25, will be introduced at the Amnesty concert by pop star Madonna, and will speak but are not expected to perform at the event.
The pair were convicted in 2012 of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after storming Moscow's biggest Orthodox cathedral and beseeching the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin.
A third member of the group, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was freed when a judge suspended her sentence on appeal.
Their case sparked a global outcry. After nearly two years behind bars, Putin granted them amnesty in December.
"It's a wonderful example of how the civil society can be put to work," Tolokonnikova said of the campaign on their behalf.
The women described a grim situation in Russia, in which protesters are thrown in jail and trials are mired by politics.
"A lot of people are unjustifiably in jail right now, and in the near future, we expect this number to rise," Tolokonnikova said.
Alyokhina joined Amnesty's executive director Steven Hawkins at the news conference and spoke through Tolokonnikova's husband, Peter Verzilov, who acted as an interpreter.
While in the United States, the women plan to visit prisons and meet with related non-governmental organizations to gain insights into how the Russian prison system might be improved.
The women made a similar trip to Holland, but said they could not imagine that Russian prisons would ever resemble Dutch facilities, which Tolokonnikova described as "a universe apart."
The "Bringing Human Rights Home" concert will also feature American alternative rock group Imagine Dragons, the Flaming Lips and R&B singer Lauryn Hill, who will perform at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The event will resume a global concert series that Nobel Peace Prize-winning Amnesty International began 25 years ago, which has featured such rock greats as U2, Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Lou Reed. (Reporting by Edith Honan, editing by G Crosse)